It’s been almost 10 years since I graduated from college. Seriously, where has the time gone?! There are days when I really miss the college life and not having “real” cares or worries, except for the occasional term paper or class project. Yet, for all of the many wonderful memories I have of being away at school, it was hard to beat the nostalgic feeling of coming home, especially after grueling final exams.
My mom was so wonderful about making me my favorite meals each time I came home. And 9 times out of 10, I requested Middle Eastern food! My mom’s side of the family is 100% Syrian, so we grew up eating hummus before hummus was cool. 🙂 If you’re unfamiliar with traditional Middle Eastern foods, they are items like kibbeh (baked beef or lamb mixed with bulgur wheat, pine nuts, and spices) topped with labneh (plain yogurt), tabbouleh (a flavorful salad of parsley, bulgur wheat, carrots, cucumber, tomatoes, and lemon juice), mujadarra (lentils, rice, and onions), stuffed grape leaves (with meat, rice, spices, and lemon juice), and of course, warm pita bread with hummus. If I close my eyes, I can almost taste our delicious Mid-East feast right now… so good!
A lot has changed over the past 10 years, but my love for Syrian food remains the same! But unfortunately, most of the ingredients in my favorite ethnic foods are off limits now. Thankfully, my mom and I have been able to “Paleo-ify” almost all of our favorite Syrian dishes! And today, I’m going back to my Middle Eastern roots with a Paleo and AIP spin on the traditional stuffed grape leaves that my mom and grandma (or “Sitto” in Arabic) used to make.
I’m proud to say that my Instant Pot Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves not only taste like the originals, but they might even be BETTER! Each grape leaf is stuffed with grass-fed beef, cauliflower rice, sweet golden raisins, and Middle Eastern spices, all cooked in a delicious, lemony broth. And with the help of the Instant Pot, these grape leaves are quicker and easier to prepare! Allow me to bring a beloved piece of my Middle Eastern heritage into your kitchen today with these healthy and delicious Instant Pot Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves!
Hopefully you’re not sick of the Instant Pot yet! I keep falling in love with it every time I use it and the recipes featuring it just keep coming! If you haven’t become a part of the Instant Pot fan club yet, that’s okay! You can still make this recipe without one, but I can’t guarantee that it will turn out quite as well! And it definitely won’t be as easy. So, I’ll do my usual “get an Instant Pot on Amazon” plug one more time and then it’s onto making these Instant Pot Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves!
For some reason, grape leaves always seem like an intimidating thing to make. But really, once you learn how to roll them, they’re actually super easy! Before we get to the rolling part, you’ll just want to do a bit of prep, like ricing the cauliflower. It’s a breeze with the help of a food processor. Or, you can even buy a couple bags of pre-riced cauliflower. Just make sure you get a fairly fine rice texture.
The cauliflower rice gets combined with the ground beef (lamb would also be delicious), fresh mint and parsley, spices, and golden raisins. The mix of flavors here is absolutely wonderful! I’m pretty sure my Sitto never put cinnamon or raisins in her grape leaves, but I felt like just a touch of sweetness really takes them to the next level! Even though she liked her traditional recipes, I think even she would approve of my tweaks!
This is where you need a bit of elbow grease. To mix the filling together evenly, you really need to dive in and mix it with your hands. You want all of the spices and cauliflower rice to be dispersed evenly, so really take out your aggression on this meat mixture! 😉 You’ll want a texture that looks like the photo below.
Now comes the fun part. (It’s actually a bit tedious, but it COULD be fun if you put on some good music and roll up the grape leaves with a friend!) After your jar of grape leaves has been drained and rinsed, place a few grape leaves on the bottom of the Instant Pot. This just prevents the bottom layer from getting too much heat.
Then, place a grape leaf on a cutting board and make sure the stem and leaf veins are face up. (If the stem isn’t already cut off, make sure you trim it off.) Take a scoop of the meat mixture and place it near the stem area. Tuck in both sides and carefully roll up the filling as tightly as you can. With traditional grape leaves that use actual rice, you want to roll the grape leaves loosely, since the rice expands. But with cauliflower rice, we don’t have to worry about that happening!
Pack the cute little grape leaves into your Instant Pot, as close together as possible, with each layer going in an opposing direction. After rolling all 45-50 grape leaves, I got almost 3 full layers. If you have some extra filling left, you can make meatballs, sliders, or just a simple sauté out of it. It’s really tasty by itself!
To finish off the grape leaves and get them cooking, simply add in 1/2 cup each of water and lemon juice and then set the Instant Pot for 15 minutes on Manual mode. It’ll take some time to heat up, but it’s amazing that it only requires 15 minutes of actual cook time! Traditional grape leaves usually take at least an hour or more to cook fully! It’s also hard to cook them all evenly. The ones on the bottom tend to cook faster than the ones on the top of the pot. Not so with this recipe!
When your Instant Pot Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves are finished cooking, allow the steam to release naturally before opening the lid. You should have 3 layers of perfectly cooked grape leaves that are ready to be devoured!This recipe could be used as a main course with tabbouleh or your favorite salad and some pita chips, or as an appetizer or side dish to round out a Middle Eastern meal. Let me tell you, I could eat these grape leaves hot or cold at pretty much any time of the day! They are just that good!
I like plating my Instant Pot Paleo Stuffed Grape Leaves with an extra squeeze of lemon and some fresh herbs like parsley or mint. They’ll make an impressive dish to share with friends and family for holidays or just on an ordinary weeknight. My family always made them at Easter and Christmas, and now that I have a simpler, faster method, I think we’ll be making and eating them much more often! And hopefully some day, I’ll be preparing a big batch for my own kids when they’re craving Syrian food on their way home from college! 🙂
- 1-15 oz. jar grape leaves
- 1 cauliflower, riced
- 2 lbs ground beef
- 2 T fresh mint, chopped
- 2 T fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 cup golden raisins
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 2 teaspoons oregano
- 1 teaspoon garlic
- 1 teaspoon onion powder
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
- ½ cup water
- juice of 2 lemons (about ½ cup)
- lemon slices to garnish
- Mix cauliflower rice, ground beef, herbs, and spices together in a large bowl. (You might want to mix with your hands!)
- Rinse jarred grape leaves and separate.
- Cover bottom of Instant Pot with a few plain grape leaves.
- To stuff: Spread out a grape leaf, stem/vein side up and fill with about a tablespoon of meat filling. The amount of filling you use will vary upon the size of each grape leaf. Roll in sides first, then roll up tightly.
- Place rolled grape leaves into the pot, packing them together tightly and keeping them going the same direction. Continue filling and placing them in the pot. Once you finish a layer, turn second layer of grape leaves in opposing direction.
- After all grape leaves are packed into the pot, add ½ cup water to the pot, along with about ½ cup fresh lemon juice.
- Set Instant Pot to Manual setting on High Pressure for 15 minutes. Make sure steam vent is sealed. Let pressure release naturally (about 25-30 minutes).
- Remove grape leaves onto a platter and top with fresh lemon slices .
- Makes about 45-50 grape leaves.
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